Radiohead dropped a surprise new album last week, and The World paused. The World of the music press that is, who wasted no time at all issuing verdicts about the sound and scope and what does it all mean-ness of The King of Limbs, the band’s eighth. So how is it? We went straight to someone who listens more closely to Radiohead than anyone else, Philly-based Radiohead tribute band Meeting in the Aisle, who play outstandingly close renditions of Radiohead’s entire catalogue. Here they give us general first impressions of the album and break it down track by track. This week, on our music blog, we talk with the members of Meeting in the Aisle about how difficult the album will be to cover. Tune in! (Brian McManus)
General impressions of The King of Limbs, by Anthony Pryor, who plays the role of Ed O’Brien in Meeting in the Aisle:
King of Limbs is really not such a surprising change of pace—that is, if you’ve been following the “Office Charts” that Thom and company post on their website, Dead Air Space. The lists include songs like Four Tet’s “Nothing to See” and Burial’s “South London Boroughs”—good examples of the kind of post-dub-step percussiveness that percolates throughout Radiohead’s newest release. Couple these with jazz standards like Duke Ellington’s “Jeep’s Blues” and Stone’s classics like “Lady Jane” and the stage is set for The King of Limbs.
The first impression I have of King of Limbs is that it’s an almost seamless record. Once you get past the dubby weirdness of the drum patterns—once you take for granted the underlying rhythmic noise—the songs have an almost calming effect. Gone are the mood swings of “Paranoid Android” and “2 + 2 = 5.” It’s a lot like [Thom Yorke solo album] The Eraser in that way. No alarms, no surprises—just lush and melodic soundscapes serving as the antidote to the schizophrenic rhythms underneath.
General Impressions by Michael Litt, who plays the role of Phil Selway in MitA:
Since it has only been two days after the release of The King Of Limbs, I have not been able to give this record the due diligence it deserves. Having said that, my first impression was one of dissatisfaction, much like if you were to gulp a big mouthful of vodka when expecting cool refreshing water ... your mind and taste buds would of course be simply unprepared for the booze.
Most albums that have taken on special meanings to me both musically and emotionally have more or less begun this way. The one thing such albums have always possessed, that other albums I disliked and quickly disregarded have not, is a mysterious quality that makes me want to keep listening despite the negative first and second time experience. I’ve listened to it a few more times since, and feel this is what Thom’s solo album The Eraser would have been like had all of Radiohead collaborated on it. It is in the same vain as The Eraser, but more organic and I feel goes a bit deeper. I have yet to hear this with headphones yet, but am very eager to, as it will be an entirely different album with many more layers to peel back and explore.
“Bloom,” by Anthony Pryor:
You’re never quite sure what you’re going to get with a new Radiohead record. The first time I listened to Kid A, I had to switch it off after a few seconds. I was at work and, upon hearing the ominous opening notes of “Everything in It’s Right Place,” I knew that I was not in the right place to listen to it.
I’m not sure there is right place to hear TKoL's first track, “Bloom.”
But once you get familiar with the terrain, it emerges as a lush and beautiful song about transition and awakening (I think). Floating above the rhythmic wonkiness are gorgeous, layered vocals and orchestration reminiscent of Bjork’s “Isobel.” In the lyric, we find Thom (or someone) diving amidst the waves of the grey English surf and contemplating the mysteries of life: “Why does this still hurt?/ Don’t blow your mind with why.”
Maybe it’s piece of advice from Thom about The King of Limbs experience? Because, yeah, it’s gonna hurt a little at first.
“Morning Mr. Magpie,” by Mike McCarthy, who plays the role of Johnny Greenwood in MitA:
Guitars! A beat! Already a world away from “Bloom.” Thom’s voice is up-front and accessible, not hiding anywhere, a pleasant reminder of how clear and present his voice was on most of In Rainbows. Between Ed painting epic soundscapes with his multiple sustained guitar notes, coupled with Thom and Johnny’s machine-gun, palm-muted riffing, I find a more comfortable place to listen and just dig into the song. “Morning Mr. Magpie” is similar to “Weird Fishes” in that there are great interweaving guitar parts, and Colin’s sparse, but incredibly tasteful bass lines.
“Lotus Flower,” by Anthony Pryor:
The resident bad-boy groove track in the tradition of “15 Step” and “National Anthem.” It’s also one of the most accessible songs on the record. The wonkiness is still there, but Colin’s hypnotic bass line is the Xanax that calms things down enough to make it listenable—and danceable, as Thom brilliantly demonstrates in the song’s video, which the guerilla comedians of YouTube have already synched up to “Whip My Hair” and “Rock With You,” among others.
The lotus flower is a Buddhist symbol of spiritual growth. I’m not exactly sure how it relates to the song, but at one point Thom sings, “Listen to your heart.” (That has to be ironic, right?)
Read more impressions at makemajormoves.com
PW's Music Issue 2014